The Cancer Society’s New Mammography Guidelines: What You Need to Know

Posted on January 8, 2016

If you're like many women, you may be a bit confused about the American Cancer Society's new recommendation regarding how often women should get mammograms.

For years, the ACS recommended all women over the age of 40 should get an annual mammogram at an accredited facility like Peconic Bay Medical Center. Coincidentally, during that period, the rate of breast cancer deaths declined by one-third.

The New Mammography GuidelinesiStock_000029948788_Small_1.jpg

However, in recent months, the ACS has changed its recommendation. Now, the organization says women should start getting annual mammograms five years later at the age of 45. The guideline change goes further. Now, ACS says women should start having mammograms every other year beginning at the age of 55.

So why the change? If breast cancer deaths are declining, why change the system that's worked to this point?

The change is being made as a way to balance the benefits of annual screenings with "harms" like false positives, unnecessary biopsies and overtreatment.

While mammograms themselves are not harmful, many women experience anxiety and stress following a false positive reading. This fact lead the ACS to change the recommendation.

Annual Mammograms May Still Be the Best Option for Many Women

But that's not to say you should follow suit. Many doctors at Long Island hospitals and public health advocates still urge women to get mammograms annually. Otherwise, the risk of some cancers going undetected will increase. And some cancers are so aggressive that waiting two years between screenings could make a huge difference in the outcome. Consider these facts:

Roughly 38,000 women in their 40s are diagnosed with cancer each year. And among women ages 40-44, between 2,000 and 2,500 will need to be screened annually for breast cancer in order to save just one life. Yes, that's a lot of women who will ultimately get screened unnecessarily, but what if you're the one woman whose life could have been saved by early detection?

Instead of changing the long-established guidelines, it would be better to change what happens after a mammogram. Focus on education. Make sure women understand a mammogram's benefits and limitations so they don't panic if follow-up diagnostic testing is required. Women who know what a mammogram can and can't reveal will be better prepared if they get called to resolve a false positive.

Additionally, digital mammography offers enhanced resolution which can help eliminate false positives. So when it's time to schedule your mammogram, seek out an imaging center that offers cutting-edge technology.

Want to learn why digital mammography is better than traditional mammography? Call the Grossman Imaging Center at 631-405-3240.